Sarcopenia... What the heck is that?!" I can hear you ask. I admit that it is not a very widely known term; however, it is in fact an actual medical diagnosis that is becoming more and more recognized. Sarcopenia is such a new concept that it is not even recognized in some countries. In Australia for example, medical schools are not even discussing this diagnosis, despite the fact that 30-40 per cent of those over 65 in Australia are likely affected with this disease. This is according to an article about sarcopenia that was just published this month in The Sydney Morning Herald. I found this to be extremely interesting when considering that falls are a geriatric issue discussed the world over, by the World Health Organization no less. Yet, a disease process that is resulting in falls, injury, death, and disability for aging adults is not even recognized across the globe!! WOW. The good news is that by gaining more and more recognition in the US, perhaps we can lead the way in prevention. The full article I am referring to can be found by clicking this link or copying to your web browser: www.smh.com.au/national/the-big-new-disease-that-doesn-t-officially-exist-in-australia-20180702-p4zp11.html?btis
So, what is it anyway? WARNING: We are about to get "sciency" here. Let the inner geek in you breathe a little. It won't hurt, I promise... According to the article cited above, an American scientist named Irwin H. Rosenburg coined the name sarcopenia in the 1980s. He invented the term by combining the Greek words sarco meaning "flesh" and penia, meaning "loss." The hallmark of the disease is a progressive loss of muscle mass through the decades.
Here are some facts from research regarding sarcopenia:
What causes this phenomenon? As we mentioned earlier, lack of physical activity is the number one cause. As a natural part of aging sexual hormones decline, cell death rates increase, and the efficiency of mitochondrial function (contain cellular DNA and produces ATP, the power source of all organ functions) becomes impaired. This results in changes to the muscle tissue and the bones. Without physical activity this will be an accelerated decline.
Another very important factor to consider is nutrition and absorption. If one's diet is deficient in protein, and without certain supplements such as Vitamin D, there will be nothing for the body to use to build up muscle tissue. When combined with a protein efficient diet, physical activity can actually aid in protein synthesis, as evidence indicates that the mechanical load placed on the muscle cells through exercise directly enables the muscle cell membrane's ability to synthesize protein (Narici et al, 2006).
In summary, sarcopenia is a highly likely condition past the age of 50 and has been found to increase mortality independent of age and other disease processes. Physical activity and exercise is the means to prevent this condition from rearing it's ugly head. My mission is to help as many people as possible to prevent this condition and to age successfully. The paradigm shift that is needed is to move from failure to frailty to function to fun. Remember, the deadliest object in your home is your favorite comfy chair. In the United States, they have loved many of us to an early death.
Dr. Michael Hyland, DPT, CEEAA has been a physical therapist since 2012. He is a Certified Exercise Expert for the Aging Adult and an expert in Parkinson's Disease. He owns Hyland Physical Therapy and Wellness in Broken Arrow, OK